This author interviewed hundreds of Russian women who served in many different capacities during World War II. They were doctors, nurses, snipers, antitank artillery, pilots, infantry, laundresses, cooks, and more and more. So many of the stories have similar heartbreaking threads ("we were so excited for the war, we begged and begged to be sent to the front", "when I came back it had been four years since I had worn a dress, I had to learn to walk in them again", "if a man came back from the war without a limb, or having suffered a terrible injury he was a hero. If it happened to a woman she was shamed", "I haven't talked about this to anyone"). The experiences that these women shared blew me away. Some of these women were so young (not actually women, technically) that they got their periods for the first time while serving. Some had no idea what was happening and on at least a few occasions the male doctors that they worked with had to explain that they hadn't actually gotten injured. (No one should become a sniper before they get their periods. For so many reasons.)
Here are a couple of quotes that stuck with me:
From a surgeon: "We stood at the operating table around the clock. You stand there, and your arms drop by themselves. My war has three smells: blood, chloroform and iodine."
"When the war ended I had three wishes: first - to ride on a bus instead of crawling on my stomach; second - to buy and eat a whole loaf of white bread; and third - to sleep in white sheets and have them make crinkly noises"
The author talking about conducting interviews with these women -
"I listen when they speak...I listen when they are silent...Both words and silence are text for me".
"Several times women sent back my transcribed text with a posscript: "No need for small details...Write about our great Victory..." But "small details" are what is most important for me, the warmth and vividness of life: a lock left on the forehead once the braid has been cut; the hot kettles of kasha and soup, which no one eats, because out of a hundered persons only 7 come back from the battle; or how after the war they could not go to the market and look at the rows of red meat...or even at red cloth..."Ah, my good girl, forty years have already gone by, but you won't find anything red in my house. Ever since the way I've hated the color red".
This should be required reading for everyone. Everywhere. Every college history class. Assigned for anyone on the internet who talks shit about women and feminism and equality. For every stupid fucking teenage boy who makes a joke to a girl about belonging in a kitchen.
It was a privilege to read these women's amazing stories.